The revitalization of the former Brooklyn Village property in Second Ward is a project that’s been on the minds of Mecklenburg County Commissioners for more than 10 years.
After receiving proposals from three developers and a sometimes rambling two-hour discussion, County Commissioners voted 5-3 on June 15 to have County Manager Dena Diorio begin negotiations to sell the 17 acres to BK Partners, led by Charlotte-based Conformity Corp.
Commissioners Pat Cotham, Matthew Ridenhour and Ella Scarborough voted against the recommendation. Commissioner Jim Puckett was absent.
The meeting became contentious when several commissioners tried to stipulate that the eventual developer of the land must keep Marshall Park at a certain acreage. But Commissioner Dumont Clarke reminded the board that tacking on new requirements after requesting proposals from developers was not a proper way to do business in a public-private partnership. After Clarke’s admonition, the board voted to accept a motion to allow Diorio to negotiate without any requirements on the park’s size.
BK Partners set forth a plan that would pay the county $50.1 million for the land and include at least 107 units of affordable housing as part of 1.2 million square feet of residential space in a mixed-use project constructed in three phases.
The proposal also calls for 185,000 square feet of hotel rooms, or 280 rooms; 252,100 square feet of retail space; 680,700 square feet of office space; a 3,700-square-foot cultural venue; and 2,312 parking spaces, for a total of 2.3 million square feet. It also includes 1.9 acres of open space.
About 10 percent of the 1,244 residential units would be affordable housing, slightly exceeding the 107 units of affordable housing mandated by the county.
Conformity Corp. has previously developed the Elizabeth Village and Southborough projects in Charlotte.
“We seek to create a transformational project that will rejuvenate and revitalize the Brooklyn Village area,” said Monte Ritchey, president of Conformity in a press release. “The rich history of Brooklyn and its past residents have taught us so much. I think along with assembling an incredibly strong team, our passion to do what is right for our city and Mecklenburg County was evident in our proposal and presentation and that’s why we were selected.”
Other companies working with Conformity on the project include The Peebles Corp., Stantec,
Perkins and Will, and Cole Jenest and Stone.
County staff members explained that they recommended BK Partners because its proposal included the affordable housing that the commission wanted while not involving the potential sale of the former Metro School property from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.
Dennis LaCaria, assistant to the county manager, explained during his presentation that not relying on the purchase of the school property was important to the county staff because it avoided making the project contingent on another transaction with a different public entity.
“We wanted to see a plan that focused solely on land the county was selling,” LaCaria said. “We were especially concerned that a developer might propose purchasing the school as part of the deal and then plan to put the park or all of the affordable housing units on that space currently occupied by the school. Then, if that purchase of the school fell through, they might say that means there’d be no affordable housing or no open space in the project.”
The county staff also liked the number of jobs created by the BK Partners plan. The proposal estimates that 2,690 jobs will be created during construction and 2,719 permanent jobs will be created upon completion of the three phases.
Although several residents attended the meeting to protest the expected redevelopment of Marshall Park –– and many more emailed commissioners to complain about the loss of the park –– LaCaria reminded commissioners that during their discussions about they wanted for the land, he was never told to seek a park.
“We heard from commissioners a concern about affordable housing and keeping to the historical spirit of Brooklyn Village,” LaCaria said. “And in my discussions with the Second Ward (High School) alumni groups, they did not mention a park. They mentioned wanting affordable housing, shops and businesses that could be owned by people who looked like them, and possibly a church. But no park.”
Diorio echoed LaCaria’s comments when the commissioners asked her for input.
“The board’s priorities were to respect the history of Brooklyn Village and to keep affordable housing in mind. Historically, there was no large park in Brooklyn Village. We reviewed this plan with the commissioners and everyone understands that open space is important,” Diorio said. “But the plan must make economic sense for the developer. It is very unlikely that you will get 5 full acres in Marshall Park. I think it is unrealistic to expect one large 5-acre park in a 17-acre development.”
LaCaria said a final positive for the BK Partners proposal was its desire to work with The Peebles Corp. –– the largest minority-owned real estate developer in the country.
The BK Partners plan would develop Brooklyn Village North on 11.34 acres which includes Marshall Park and the former Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education headquarters along South McDowell Street between East Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and East Third Street. The other parcel, to be called Brooklyn Village South, is 5 acres and is west of the Mecklenburg Aquatic Center and includes the vacant Walton Plaza building.
Once Diorio has finished negotiations with BK Partners, she will present the information to the commissioners who will have the final vote on whether the land is sold to BK Partners.
The county last year launched a search for a developer. Staff members evaluated developer submissions in December and then put three proposals on a short list of finalists.
The county manager’s office recommended three finalists, CitiSculpt, Conformity Corp. and Crescent Communities. Each company was required to submit financial documents, development plans and an offer to purchase the county-owned land.